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Water Safari racer pulled from river, hospitalized

June 10, 2012 at 1:10 a.m.
Updated June 11, 2012 at 1:11 a.m.


A paddler participating in the Texas Water Safari was hospitalized early Sunday morning and placed in intensive care in a San Antonio-area hospital.

The paddlers, Brad Ellis and Ian Rolls in Boat No. 22, were south of Gonzales when a fellow racer saw there was a problem and signaled for help.

Officials are not stating whether it was Ellis or Rolls that required medical attention, citing the family's request for privacy in the matter.

The Gonzales County Sheriff's Office responded to the scene, but multiple calls to them Sunday evening were not returned.

What is known is either Ellis or Rolls experienced some difficulty in their boat between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. Sunday morning. They were between Gonzales and Hochheim, a common point-of-reference for race participants.

No one has ever died while participating in the Texas Water Safari, according to Victoria County resident Roger Zimmerman, the event's historian.

"We got a call from another boat on the river," said Allen Spelce, the race's president. "That person called and saw the medical situation.

"Fortunately, they had a SPOT tracker, so their location was known. They had a GPS, and they had a cell phone where they called 911 and got the sheriff and ambulance. We're fortunate it all took place near an easily accessible point."

Ellis, 30, is from Dripping Springs competing in his first Texas Water Safari. His partner in his aluminum boat, Rolls, 34, is participating in his second.

Both competed and finished the 40-mile Texas River Marathon in May, completing that race in 6 hours, 29 minutes.

Spelce, a former paddler who was on the winning boat in 2003, said he routinely tells inexperienced and first-time paddlers they should focus more on finishing the 260-mile race.

That doesn't mean, though, that racers should compromise their health to do so.

"This race, it's called the world's toughest canoe race for a reason," he said. "The race takes a lot of preparation and training. It's not just physical training, but mental preparation. You have to have your nutrition down, the right attitude and the right training.

"You have to have first aid training and you may not have immediate accessibility to help. This race is more than running a 10k on a Sunday morning. It takes a lot of preparation and work."

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